Thursday, July 2, 2009

A time for a Cyber Service of the Military?

I stumbled on an article by COL Surdu and LTC Conti, which was published earlier this year in the IA Newsletter [Vol 12, No 1, 2009 - pdf]. In the article, they argue that US needs a new military service that would handle the cyber warfare mission.

Currently, each service already has small elements dispersed in the structure, but they are not coordinated, nor are they integrated into the bigger picture. I think they bring out a good point that the US military (in fact, other militaries as well) is not fit to fight a cyber war, as its leadership, processes and culture are fundamentally incapable to understand it.

The main problem is that the military does not place enough emphasis on technical expertise, or as they put it:
"Today’s militaries excel at their respective missions of fighting and winning in ground, sea, and air conflict; however, the core skills each institution values are intrinsically different from those skills required to engage in cyberwarfare.
To understand the culture clash evident in today’s existing militaries, it is useful to examine what these services hold dear—skills such as marksmanship, physical strength, and the ability to jump out of airplanes and lead combat units under enemy fire. Accolades are heaped upon those who excel in these areas. Unfortunately, these skills are irrelevant in cyberwarfare.
Consider the awards, decorations, badges, patches, tabs, and other accoutrements authorized for wear by each service. Absent is recognition for technical expertise. Echoes of this ethos are also found in disadvantaged assignments, promotions, school selection, and career progression for those who pursue cyberwarfare expertise, positions, and accomplishments."
I wholeheartedly agree with their arguments, having come to a similar conclusion some time ago. Their proposal to deal with this issue is to create a new service that would be on equal status with the kinetic services. However, I am not so convinced that a transition so profound can be made in one step. Perhaps it would be better to use the USAF model and first create cyber commands (historical Army Air Corps) within the services, then integrate them, and then, maybe, raise them into a new service.

They are right, however, that the root of the problem lies with the personnel management in the military. One could say that a techie should stay in the service, become the top dog and change it from within, but that discounts the fact that techies do not get promoted to top dog. In fact, there are precious little positions near the top that have anything to do with technology. Therefore, a techie must either be a multi-talent or forget his tech aspirations and plod up the traditional leadership/management track. Meanwhile, people who have a talent for tech positions will not be promoted and more than likely get rotated to (technologically) meaningless positions... or they get out. Therefore, any step that will accommodate the requirements and skills of the tech oriented service members while not undermining the traditional services, is a step in the right direction.

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